THE ROSS BLOG
Andy Ross 2014-10-31
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BLOG 2014

EPA
Norwegian F-16 tails Russian Tupolev 95 threatening NATO airspace

INSIGHT
Tranquility
Wisdom
Compassion


Interstellar


Paragon Space Development Corp.
Alan Eustace, 57, rose 41 km
into space under a balloon and
then fell freely down, setting
a new world record.


Bitstrips
Bye Bye Bitman

FURY
Tower Park, Poole

AR The movie is a horribly realistic evocation of WW2 combat in a tank. Brad Pitt was good, the mud and gore were relentless, and the sights and sounds were as authentic as a movie can make them. In its visceral evocation of tanker life, the movie reminded me of Lebanon, a little Israeli movie about IDF soldiers in a Centurion tank.






Support for EU membership at highest level for 23 years


Bitstrips
Time out

Philosophy
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

Science is our best answer. But it takes a philosophical argument to prove that. Science provides the best description of reality. The realm of philosophy is in trying to reconcile what science is telling us with other intuitions we have. A philosophical belief is a moral position that is arrived at through a system of reasoning and intellectual coherence.

Are We Free?
Daniel Dennett

 

2014 October 31

Mindfulness

Melanie McDonagh

Mindfulness has been touted as a cure for pretty well everything. The heart of it is sitting in silence, thinking about your breath going in and out. Distracting thoughts are fine so long as you let them go.

Mindfulness is squarely based on Buddhism. However much people may dislike the idea, the major world religions have developed to be a comfort and support for humans in their quest for meaning.

Mindfulness can lead you to the heart of yourself. Where Buddhism causes us to go within ourselves, Christianity takes you out of yourself, to God and from there to others. Being mindful is mostly about me.

2014 October 30

Our Moral Duty

David Cameron

Conservatives are committed to cutting your taxes. It is morally right that the rich pay their fair share in tax; and right that those who are able to contribute to our public services and safety nets do so. But what is morally wrong is government spending money as if it grows on trees. Every single pound of public money started as private earning. Every million in the Treasury represents a huge amount of hard work. Conservatives understand this basic point.

2014 October 29

Wake Up, Europe

George Soros

Europe is facing a challenge from Russia. The European Union and the eurozone lost their way after the financial crisis of 2008. Now Russia is presenting an alternative that poses a fundamental challenge to the values and principles on which the European Union was founded.

Europe and the United States are determined to avoid any direct military confrontation with Russia. Russia is taking advantage of their reluctance. Violating its treaty obligations, Russia has annexed Crimea and established separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine.

The collapse of Ukraine would be a tremendous loss for NATO, the European Union, and the United States. A victorious Russia would pose a potent threat to the Baltic states. Not only the survival of the new Ukraine but the future of NATO and the European Union are at risk.

Sanctions against Russia have a depressive effect on the European economies. This aggravates the recessionary forces already at work. By contrast, assisting Ukraine in defending itself against Russian aggression would have a stimulative effect not only on Ukraine but also on Europe.

The new Ukraine has the political will both to defend Europe against Russian aggression and to engage in radical structural reforms. To preserve and reinforce that will, Ukraine needs to receive adequate assistance. It is high time for the members of the European Union to wake up.

Arabs And Apostasy

Brian Whitaker

Compulsion in religion is the ideological foundation stone of Islamic State and Islamist movements in general. Believing they have superior knowledge of God's wishes for mankind, such groups feel entitled to punish those who fail to comply with the divine will.

Although freedom of belief is a widely accepted principle internationally, it is still far from established in the Arab countries. As far as many of the Arab public are concerned, discriminating against those who hold different beliefs is the right thing to do. For Arab governments, enforcing religious rules and allying themselves with God helps to make up for their lack of electoral legitimacy.

In Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the UAE, and Yemen, apostasy is a crime and in theory the death penalty can apply. Executions for apostasy would trigger an international outcry, but those states also fear the backlash if they try to abolish the death penalty.

2014 October 28

Interstellar

The Times

The spacetime continuum warps as you watch Interstellar. A tear in the universe is explained.
Kip Thorne generated equations to guide the special effects software. The dialogue feels like a math class. The cinematography has breathtaking moments. The soundtrack is laid on with a heavy Germanic trowel. A close encounter with the far side of theoretical physics. For three hours.

Interstellar

The Guardian

Christopher Nolan's grand space opera is inspired by Kip Thorne's work on traversable wormholes. Interstellar is the best introduction of scientific theory into blockbuster cinema since Nolan's Inception. The last humans, stranded in a distant solar system, debate quantum theory and the selfish gene as the majesty of the galaxy sweeps by. Glorious spectacle.

Interstellar

The Independent

Interstellar is a $160 million sci-fi epic from Christopher Nolan. Made under the supervision of
Kip Thorne, the film combines abstruse ideas about spacetime with old fashioned melodrama, great special effects, and a final nose dive into bathos. As in Gravity, the filmmakers use the silence of space to accentuate the eeriness. The music has a sacral feel. A film for sci-fi buffs.

AR Kip Thorne's immortal work was with Charles W. Misner and John Archibald Wheeler on the massive text Gravitation. For me, the wormhole stuff is general relativity at the Gödel level, unphysical, unmoderated by the unsolved challenge of quantum gravity. Inception was unphysical for me too, based on a strange concept of consciousness.

2014 October 27

Bennites

Steve Richards

A significant section of the Conservative party follows the views espoused by Tony Benn:

Benn regarded the state as a benevolent force, whereas Conservatives want government to play a smaller role. But in the importance they attach to democracy, and in their interpretation of what form democratic politics should take, they have much in common.

Benn originated the idea of a referendum on Europe when the Labour government held one in 1975. He would advocate withdrawal from the EU whatever Cameron says or does, on the grounds that the EU can never be accountable to voters here or elsewhere.

Benn started a campaign after the 1979 election to make Labour leaders and MPs more accountable to party members. He supported the right of local parties to deselect MPs and said constituents, not the national leadership, should hold MPs to account.

Benn was animated by debate rather than tribal loyalties. In his diaries he speaks admiringly of Enoch Powell and Margaret Thatcher, on the basis that they were teachers of conviction.

The parliamentary Conservative party includes libertarians, patrician Tories, Eurosceptics who want out, Eurosceptics who want to stay in, pro-Europeans, those who above all seek ministerial office, and a growing number who have other priorities in politics. Some are Bennites.

2014 October 26

German Intransigence

The Sunday Times

Chancellor Angela Merkel: "Germany will not tamper with the fundamental principles of free movement in the European Union."

British Xenophobia

Jonathan Freedland

David Cameron has staked much on the renegotiation that will precede his referendum. But he crossed a red line when he demanded exemption from the principle of free movement of people. For the other 27 states, that principle defines the single market. The Poles, Czechs, Bulgarians, and Romanians hear the rhetoric and conclude that we have lurched into xenophobia.

Indian Nationalism

Pankaj Mishra

Narendra Modi, India's new prime minister and main ideologue of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, is stoking old Hindu fires over what he calls more than a thousand years of slavery under Muslim and British rule.

A rhetoric of national aggrandizement can quickly slide into reckless warmongering. The ideology of anti-imperialist imperialism in a modern state with media and nuclear technology can make Islamic fundamentalists seem toothless.

2014 October 25

Immigration

New Statesman

Britain, in common with other countries, has been enriched economically, culturally and socially by immigration. The unilateral rejection of free movement by the UK would encourage similar reprisals against the 1.8 million British citizens living abroad in the EU. Such a retreat into protectionism and nativism would be an act of collective self-harm.

2014 October 24

Patrons Dinner, Bulbury Woods Golf Club
Guest Speaker: Desmond Swayne MP

"I fully support the Prime ministers refusal to pay this extra £1.7 billion. It is absurd to impose what is effectively a tax on economic success. All political parties should be united to fight this, this is not the time to posture smugly from the sidelines, British politicians need to act together to see this off."
Julie Girling MEP

2014 October 23

Sufism

Jason Webster

Fifty years ago, Idries Shah published The Sufis. Now the Idries Shah Foundation is bringing out new editions in English and commissioning translations of his work into Persian, Arabic and Urdu.

Sufism has embraced free thinkers and people concerned with human development from many cultures throughout history. Classical Sufis in the Islamic world include Rumi, Omar Khayyam, Fariduddin Attar, and Avërroes. Many of their ideas passed to Europe through contacts between the Islamic and Christian worlds in the crusader states, Norman Sicily, and the Iberian peninsula.

Shah, who died in 1996, broke new ground by explaining Sufism accessibly, often in psychological terminology. He went on to write more than 30 books on Sufism, selling over 15 million copies in dozens of languages. Sufism is a natural antidote to fanaticism.

AR I discussed Shah and Sufism in my book CORAL.

2014 October 22

Plato

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

Plato laid out the terrain of philosophy. The methodology of philosophy is the argument, exploring implications, thought experiments, counter-examples. Philosophy has to happen in the clash of points of view. You need these other points of view. The sparkiest lecturer I ever heard was Saul Kripke. He would stand there and just catch fire! He was giving lectures on Wittgenstein.

Platonism is constantly referred to in philosophy of mathematics. The American Mathematical Association found that something like 98% of mathematicians described themselves as Platonists. There is a kind of commitment to the existence of the abstract. Every theoretical physicist I've ever known has believed that not only is reality given to us in the language of mathematics, but that when we have two empirically adequate theories, you go with the one that has the most beautiful mathematics. That's Plato!

AR Gödel was a Platonist too, as I found 40 years ago as a grad student. I found Kripke a sparky lecturer too, even in his logic days before he morphed into Kripkenstein.

2014 October 21

Terror

Tomis Kapitan

Those in power use the rhetoric of terror not only to sway public opinion but also to direct attention away their own acts of terror. The rhetoric erases any incentive to understand the nature and origins of grievances, deflects attention away from policies that might have contributed to the grievances, repudiates any calls for negotiation, obliterates the distinction between national liberation movements and fringe fanatics, and paves the way for the use of force.

The rhetoric of terror actually increases the likelihood of terrorism. It magnifies the effect of terrorist actions by heightening the fear among the target population. Those who succumb to the rhetoric contribute to the cycle of revenge and retaliation by endorsing military actions that grievously harm the populations among whom terrorists live. A violent response is likely to stiffen the resolve of those from whose ranks terrorists have emerged, leading them to regard their foes as people who know only the language of force. The result is a nightmare of skewed reason and perpetual warfare.

2014 October 20

Europe

The Guardian

European Commission president José Manuel Barroso: "If you support continued membership of the EU you need to say what Europe stands for and why it is in the British interest to be part of it. And you need to start making that positive case well in advance, because if people read only negative and often false portrayals in their newspapers from Monday to Saturday, you cannot expect them to nail the European flag on their front door on Sunday."

Polish ambassador to the UK Witold Sobków: "We want the UK to remain in the EU so we will do our best to help the British government introduce some reforms in the functioning of the EU, enabling the UK to remain in the EU."

Barroso: "I too come from a country with a long history, a trading nation, proud of its culture and tradition. And it may be a revelation to some, but the vast majority of people living in Europe are also rather attached to their national identity, however they may choose to define it."

Time

Jim Holt

Einstein proved that whether an observer deems two events at different locations to be happening at the same time depends on his state of motion. Whether two events are simultaneous is relative to the observer. And once simultaneity goes, the division of moments into past, present, and future becomes meaningless.

In 1949, on the occasion of Einstein's 70th birthday, Kurt Gödel presented Einstein with a proof of the nonexistence of time. Playing with Einstein's equations of general relativity, Gödel found a novel solution that corresponded to a universe with closed timelike loops. A resident of such a universe could travel back into his own past. Einstein was not pleased, but Gödel was delighted. A past that can be revisited has not really passed. So, Gödel concluded, time does not exist.

At the tiniest of scales, the fabric of space-time dissolves into a quantum foam in which events have no determinate temporal order. Temporal matters are even stranger if we look back at the Big Bang. Stephen Hawking says that asking what came before the Big Bang is as silly as asking what's north of the North Pole.

AR Gödel was a Kantian about time. Quantum granularity makes this harder. We are immersed in time, whether our concept of time is correct or not.

2014 October 19

Jihadi-Cool

Salman Rushdie

I am concerned about the mangling of language that makes possible the creation of tyranny. The overwhelming weight of the problem lies in the world of Islam, and much of it has its roots in the ideological language of blood and war emanating from the Salafist movement within Islam, globally backed by Saudi Arabia.

The deformed medievalist language of fanaticism, dubbed "jihadi-cool", is being heard more and more in mosques and on social media. A Saudi opinion poll shows that 92% of respondents agree that ISIS conforms to the values of Islam and Islamic law. Hate-filled religious rhetoric, pouring from the mouths of ruthless fanatics into the ears of angry young men, has become the most dangerous new weapon in the world today.

To feel aversion toward such a force is not bigotry.

Immigration

Jonathan Portes

The 1958 Treaty of Rome established freedom of movement for labour, capital, goods, and services within the European Economic Community. Over the years, free movement rights have been extended to let people move to look for jobs within the European Union as well as take them.

The UK government agreed to allow in workers from the new member states in 2004. The UK wanted the countries of the former Eastern bloc in the EU. The economy was doing well, and immigrant workers were likely to boost it. Also, the UK had no right to stop them from coming here.

Since 2004, studies showed no significant evidence that EU migration had reduced native job prospects. Immigrants complement rather than substitute for natives, helping raise wages and productivity for everybody. Some immigrants abuse the benefit system, but migrants are about half as likely to be on unemployment benefit as natives.

Recent immigrants from the EU are much younger, and much more likely to be in work, than the average Briton. And since most public spending goes on pensions, health care for older people, and education, the overall impact on the deficit is positive. Stopping EU migration would cost public services more in lost tax revenue than it would save in reduced demand.

2014 October 18

Election Agent Training in Shaftesbury, Dorset

2014 October 17

Dark Matter

The Guardian

The ESA XMM-Newton space observatory may have detected dark matter particles called axions. Dark matter is thought to make up about 85% of all the matter in the universe.

Researchers at Leicester University spotted the signal in 15 years of data from the observatory. The intensity of x-rays it recorded rose by about 10% whenever it observed the boundary of Earth's magnetic field facing the Sun.

From their report in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: "It appears plausible that axions — dark matter particle candidates — are indeed produced in the core of the sun and do indeed convert to x-rays in the magnetic field of the Earth."

2014 October 16

Bum Rap

The Independent

Former Sex Pistol John Lydon calls Russell Brand a "bum hole" for refusing to vote.
His advice: Read as much as you can and "find out who's using you".

Particle Fever
The Hunt for the Higgs Boson

Following six scientists during the launch of the Large Hadron Collider, where experts recreated the conditions just moments after the Big Bang and revealed the Higgs boson, this documentary gives an insight into a scientific breakthrough.

BBC4 HD
2014-10-15 21:00—22:35

Trailer
(2:13)

"Margaret Thatcher detached the Conservative Party from the aristocracy."
Martin Amis

Slavery
Islamic State

"One should remember that enslaving the families of the kuffar — the infidels — and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah, or Islamic law."


Lotus Motorcycles
Lotus C-01
German superbike:
A 200 hp V-2 engine in an
aero tech steel/titanium/
carbon-fiber frame for
€110,000





FURY
Sony
FURY

Hannover, April 1945: Two Sherman tanks rumble into the square. One has "Fury" scrawled on its gun barrel and Brad Pitt poking out of the turret. The movie includes a real Tiger tank from Bovington Tank Museum. One detail is wrong. In WW2 the average age of a combat soldier was 26 and the cutoff age for the US draft was 38. Pitt is 50.


BBC
Dad's Army

In the British folk memory,
1940 was the defining moment when the country stood alone to fight Nazi Germany. Britain's wartime experience was immortalized in the TV show
Dad's Army, with its song
Who do you think you're
kidding, Mr Hitler?


HBO
Real Time
(10:05)

The Zone of Interest
is the best novel Amis has written since The Information. His fixation on the most violent and debased aspects of humanity find a commensurate subject in the darkest abominations of the last century. There are few contemporary novelists who can render violence and stupidity with such forceful style and intelligence.
Mark O'Connell


AR
Me in Poole High Street
September 2014

"The question concerning the
role of world Jewry is not a racial but a metaphysical question."
Martin Heidegger


IS
Sunni politics

 

2014 October 15

Pakistan

Mosharraf Zaidi

Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize but Pakistani schools are in a desperate state of rot.

Pakistan has over 50 million school-age children. Its constitution guarantees all of them a free and compulsory education. But almost half of them, mostly girls, are not attending school. Even at school, only half the pupils reach the competence levels of kids years several years younger in other countries. Over half of the primary schools have no working electricity, over a third have no drinking water on site, and 2 in 5 don't even have working toilets.

Contracts for schools and teachers afford politicians the opportunity to distribute patronage.

Religion

Gary Gutting

In my survey of philosophers, almost 3 in 4 said they accepted or inclined to atheism, while fewer than 1 in 6 accepted or inclined to theism. Atheists have a strong case against God as a scientific hypothesis. Believers can say any concepts of God fall short of the divine reality.

Christianity has apparent contradictions in its doctrines. An appeal to mystery is inevitable. The fundamental revelation is the moral ideal expressed in the New Testament Christ. Engagement with the practices inspired by that ideal is the only requirement for being a Catholic.

Islam was once connected with traditions of philosophical reflection that tempered excesses of blind faith. Such traditions are still effective in many parts of the Muslim world, but in some places they have failed and a fanatical mutation has gone out of control.

2014 October 14

National Health

Polly Toynbee

Pay is also a token of respect. To deny a below-inflation 1% to nurses was a calculated provocation. With its Health and Social Care Act, the government wasted billions in a chaotic reorganization of the NHS that cabinet ministers now call a disaster. The current fragmentation of the NHS has set trusts to compete against each other for income, staff, and patients in a sham health market. If ordinary laws of the market worked, nurses should be in a powerful bargaining position. But some in the NHS get large bonuses, such the John Radcliffe hospital CEO who gets a £30,000 bonus on top of his £215,000 pay, defended by his local MP: "There should be performance related pay for key people." This is an affront to other NHS key people and a microcosm of warped rewards across the UK.

Ebola

The Times

UK health secretary Jeremy Hunt warns that the ebola outbreak is becoming as serious as the AIDS epidemic.

AR Respect nurses and pay them.

2014 October 13

UK

Stefano Hatfield

The racism behind the UKIP message is repugnant. Facts: 2.2 million Britons live in continental Europe, while 2.3 million other EU citizens live here. Some 77% of our EU migrants work, while 72% of Britons do. EU migrants form 2.1% of UK welfare recipients. But last year there was a 30% rise in net migration to Britain to 212,000, fueled largely by migrants from southern Europe, while 320,000 Brits emigrated, the fewest since 2008. Migrants form 8% of the UK population (10% including dependent children). Black and Asian ethnic groups form 11% of the population. UKIP is a protest vote.

2014 October 12

UKIP

The Times

A new poll suggests that 1 in 4 voters would vote for UKIP at the next general election, to give both Labour and Conservatives 31% and Liberal Democrats 8%. This could give Labour 253 MPs, Conservatives 187, UKIP 128, Lib Dems 11, and other parties 71.

Recession

Paul Krugman

Martin Wolf says academics and policymakers displayed ignorance and arrogance in the run-up to the financial crisis. When crisis struck, major central banks rescued troubled banks and sustained money supplies, but we got a depression all the same.

Hyman Minsky argued that periodic financial crises are a more or less unavoidable feature of capitalism. Borrowers and lenders become complacent and underestimate the risks of high levels of debt. Leverage rises year after year. Then something goes wrong. This is the Minsky moment.

The economics establishment identified financial crisis with bank runs by depositors. Yet by 2008 depository institutions were no longer the dominant form of banking. Institutions like money market funds and investment banks were both unsecured and unregulated. Policymakers convinced themselves that such innovation was making the system more stable and efficient. They were wrong.

It is tempting to turn it all into a morality play. Two reasons to be skeptical:

1 If the secular stagnationists are right, advanced economies suffer from persistently inadequate demand. Depression is their normal state, except when spending is supported by bubbles. So bubbles are good because they prop up demand. We need policies to support demand on a continuing basis.

2 Even if you believe that financial excess set the stage for the slump, there was still no good reason why the slump had to be so terrible. Given low interest rates, the stimulus could have been bigger and gone on longer. An obsession with deficits and fiscal austerity deepened and extended the slump.

Debt, shadow banking, international imbalances, and so on helped set the stage for disaster, but intellectual shifts arguably played an equally large part in the crisis. Conventional economic analysis fell short, but policymakers made the situation worse.

Revolution

Russell Brand

Politics is something I've acquired through growing up in a single-parent family, being on the dole, then being a drug addict. There's a lot of anarcho-collectivism in the fellowship around abstinence-based recovery. I want to address the alienation and sense of despair that you see all around us. It don't matter to me how much people have a go at me. I'm ready to die for this.

Karl Marx designed one of the most powerful and influential economic and social philosophies of recent history. Regardless of what I do, madness is coming. And I'll be happy to participate in whatever way I can. But I don't think it will be by joining an already antiquated and defunct system. I'm not asking for an invitation to the party. I'm saying the party's over.

AR I won't be voting for him.

Rape

Ian Urbina

Recent US actions aimed at countering sexual assault reveal little uniformity on how to define rape.

Until 2012, the FBI still considered rape a crime committed solely against women. For statutory rape, some states set rules for a minimum age difference between partners. In some states, active resistance is required for rape, and merely saying no is insufficient. Only 40 years ago, no state allowed husbands to be prosecuted for raping their wives, and 60 years ago, in some states, sex between a black man and a white woman was considered rape.

Some see an urgent need for national standards regarding rape and sexual assault.

2014 October 11

Peace

The New York Times

The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize goes to Malala Yousafzai, 17, and the Indian child rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi, 60. The prize committee chairman said it was important for "a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism" as they share the $1.1 million prize.

UKIP

The Times

Prime Minister David Cameron says the double by-election results puts Labour leader Ed Miliband closer to power. Some Conservatives say Cameron should take advantage of the UKIP challenge to Labour in the north.

MP Jacob Rees-Mogg: "We should think about what that means in terms of the UKIP-Conservative relationship, because the Conservative family could win a majority on that basis. Otherwise, the only thing we manage is mutually assured destruction."

MP Peter Bone: “If we can get that vote as one we would have a massive centre-right majority in parliament, but if we split the vote we could have Labour winning on 31-32% of the vote."

Scientists

Priyamvada Natarajan

The scientific enterprise is often seen as a large and dispassionate machine in which objective scientists seek cold facts from experiments. This leaves out the excitement, awe, and wonder that motivate many scientists.

Curiosity and wonder have driven the scientific enterprise. Changes in the notion of curiosity from vice to virtue have gone hand in hand with the development of empirical methods in science. A slow and gradual honing and growing sophistication of our understanding is driven by accumulating data enabled by the invention of new instruments. As empirical evidence accumulates, theories aim at a more comprehensive explanation that subsumes earlier views.

Two other forces that condition science are serendipity and ignorance. Scientists continually uncover new facts that confront them with the extent of their ignorance. Breakthroughs in understanding are essentially unforeseeable even to a seasoned mind. Researchers can be held captive by their entrenched intuitions and refuse to accept new ideas until they are faced with overwhelming empirical evidence contradicting their views. Blunders are part of scientific progress.

A view of how science actually works might reduce the misunderstanding and distrust of science.

2014 October 10

UKIP

The Times

Strong surge for UKIP in two by-elections:

In Clacton, Tory defector Douglas Carswell secured a resounding victory with a 12,404 majority and 60% of the vote. He returns to the Commons as the first UKIP MP.

In Heywood & Middleton, UKIP destroyed a Labour majority of 5,971 to come second with 38.7% of the vote compared with 40.1% for Labour.

2014 October 9

Holocaust Novels

Adam Kirsch

The Zone of Interest, by Martin Amis, and J, by Howard Jacobson, return to the Holocaust:

Jacobson believes that the subject demands disorientation, reticence, and confusion. J takes place in a future England, somewhere around the year 2070. As Jacobson sketches in more of his fictional world, it becomes clear that it is afflicted by a continual, habitual violence. Then there are the more pointed and private omens. Jacobson is imagining an English Holocaust, set to take place sometime around the year 2020. He has written a horror story about a Holocaust that changes history and even human nature. The real horror of the real Holocaust is that it did no such thing.

Amis deliberately circumvents the conventions of Holocaust writing. Nearly the whole cast of The Zone of Interest are perpetrators. Amis has written a comedy that happens to be set in Auschwitz. The protagonists are the administrators of the camp. The horror is made to bleed through the edges of the story. Amis writes beautifully and originally about Auschwitz. The book conjures everyday life there. We see not overt savagery but carefully chosen moments of pathos and irony. The crime of Auschwitz was to assign the victims and the perpetrators their roles in an ideological apocalypse.

2014 October 8

Islam in Real Time

Sam Harris

Ben Affleck is now being lauded for having exposed my and Bill Maher's racism, bigotry, and hatred of Muslims. I say we have to be able to criticize bad ideas, and Islam is the Mother lode of bad ideas.

Affleck and others imagine that ISIS is functioning like a bug light for psychopaths by attracting disaffected young men who would do terrible things to someone, somewhere, in any case. These disturbed individuals travel to a foreign desert for the privilege of decapitating journalists and aid workers. I await an entry in the DSM-VI that describes this troubling condition.

Affleck and others are confused about Islam. Like many secular liberals, they refuse to accept the abundant evidence that vast numbers of Muslims believe dangerous things about infidels, apostasy, blasphemy, jihad, and martyrdom. And they do not realize that these doctrines are about as controversial under Islam as the resurrection of Jesus is under Christianity.

We need honest talk about the link between belief and behavior. No one is suffering the consequences of what Muslim extremists believe more than other Muslims.

Is It Is or Is It Ain't?

"President Obama keeps insisting that ISIS is not Islamic. Well, maybe they don't practice the Muslim faith in the same way he does. But if vast numbers of Muslims across the world believe — and they do — that humans deserve to die for merely holding a different idea or drawing a cartoon or writing a book or eloping with the wrong person, not only does the Muslim world have something in common with ISIS, it has too much in common with ISIS."
Bill Maher

2014 October 7

Physics Nobel for Blue LED

New Scientist

Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano at Nagoya University in Japan, and Shuji Nakamura at the University of California in Santa Barbara, share the 2014 Nobel prize for physics for developing blue light emitting diodes in the late 1980s. Since then, the blue LED has transformed the way we light our world, watch movies, and store data.

LEDs are made from multiple layers of semiconductor sandwiched together, one with an excess of electrons and the next with an excess of positively charged holes. Applying a voltage to the device drives the electrons and holes together into the filling layer, where they combine to emit light. Its color depends on the semiconductor material. Gallium nitride doped with indium has the quantum properties to emit blue light, but it was hard to make a semiconductor sandwich with a gallium nitride filling.

In 1986, Akasaki and Amano made one by adding an extra layer to the sandwich. Meanwhile, Nakamura did so by growing a gallium nitride crystal first at low temperatures and then at higher temperatures. The trio went on to turn their blue LEDs into blue lasers, used in Blu-ray players. LED units make more efficient lighting.

AR These guys published their first book on the blue LED with Springer while I was there working on the physics books.

2014 October 6

Brain Science Nobel Prize

New Scientist

The Nobel prize in physiology or medicine has been awarded to three scientists who located specialized cells in the brain responsible for helping us to navigate our world. One half of the award went to John O'Keefe at University College London and the other half to the husband and wife team May-Britt and Edvard Moser, both at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

O'Keefe discovered in 1971 that certain cells in the hippocampus were only active when an animal was in a particular place in a certain orientation in its environment. The same combination of cells was active when the animal visited the same location, but a different combination was active when visiting another site, suggesting that the activity of these cells helps the animal build an internal map of its environment. The Moser team later found another component of our internal navigation system within the entorhinal cortex.

Asian Cauldron

Robert D. Kaplan

By the year 2000, Asia accounted for 20% of global military expenditure. Asia's share of arms imports increased to over 40% of the world total. In 2011, China's defense budget rose to nearly $100 billion. China is now the world's second largest military spender.

China has over 60 submarines and will have around 75 or so in the next few years, slightly more than the United States. China is outbuilding the United States in new submarines by 4 to 1 since 2000 and by 8 to 1 since 2005.

2014 October 5

The British Constitution

Vernon Bogdanor

Constitutional issues keep pushing forth in the UK: the European Union, the role and composition of the House of Lords, and the independence referendum in Scotland.

In 1998, the Westminster Parliament created devolved bodies in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The devolved bodies, unlike the House of Commons, were to be elected by proportional representation.

The British government now has an English problem. English Conservative MPs will not support further devolution unless something is done for England. They propose English votes for English laws.

The British are not wholly foolish in regarding constitutional issues as less important than social and economic ones. Britain is governed not by logic but by Parliament.

Shaping Virtual Lives

Online Identities, Representations, and Conducts
Eds. Violetta Krawczyk-Wasilewska, Theo Meder, and Andy Ross

"This is an interesting and necessary book, which should stand side by side with Dutch cultural historian Johan Huizinga's book Homo Ludens."
— Eda Kalmre

From special issue "Homo Ludens: Describing Virtual Lives" edited by Mare Kalda,
Folklore: Electronic Journal of Folklore, 57/2014, 189-190

The Frost Report

John Cleese

It was to become a great joke among writers that in the final credits of the TV show every week the words "Written by" were closely followed by the words "David Frost" in large letters and then, after a slight gap, by the word "and" in smaller letters and finally, in even smaller letters, the names of a couple of dozen writers. David was endearingly shameless in matters such as these.

2014 October 4

Reading

Will Self

No forensic or analytic account of reading can do justice to the strange interplay between levels of reality we apprehend when we read deeply. Reading on screen is fundamentally different. Digital text will bring with it new forms of reading, learning, memory, and even consciousness.

The book is in retreat. The relationship between words and revenue is debatable. A certain kind of expertise was understood to have a value to its consumers that was both constant and capable of being monetized at a fixed rate. The web snapped this inelasticity. Follow the money.

Dawkins

John Gray

Richard Dawkins is an evangelist. He says memes leap from brain to brain, via a process that can be called imitation, and he sees this process at work throughout human culture. But a meme-based Darwinian account of religion is at odds with the assault on religion as a type of intellectual error. If Darwinian evolution applies to religion, then religion must have some evolutionary value.

Science may show that humans are not and can never be rational animals. Perhaps religion cannot be eradicated from the human mind. Dawkins is an ideologue of scientism, the positivistic creed according to which science is the only source of knowledge and the key to human liberation. Religion is irrational, and we will all be better off without it. This is his argument for atheism.

2014 October 3

Procrastination

Anna Della Subin

The American Psychological Association estimates that 1 in 5 of American men and women are chronic procrastinators. In 1952, the American Psychiatric Association declared procrastination a symptom of mental illness. Why not view procrastination as an act of resistance against the strictures of time and productivity?

2014 October 2

Islam

Sajjad Rizvi

The Quran presents Abraham as an adherent of Islam. A primordial faith connects humanity to one God and leads in turn to Judaism, Christianity, and then historical Islam as proclaimed by Muhammad. Jewish and Christian communities were considered often to be imperfect monotheists.

Shia Islam is a religious tradition in which the presence of the divine through the Imam provides the path to salvation. The Imam is the Law and the revelation. Believers follow the path to salvation through their devotion and obedience to the Imam. Sunni traditions tend to be more pragmatic about politics.

Conscious Computers

Christof Koch

Integrated Information Theory, developed by Giulio Tononi, says that consciousness is a property of complex systems that have a particular way of interacting with the world. But a digital simulation would not be conscious.

Consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe. But it takes a particular type of hardware to instantiate it. If you were to build a computer in the appropriate way, like a neuromorphic computer, it could be conscious.

People are going to abuse computer intelligence, blindly maximize for some goal. It will lead to more and more concentration of power among fewer and fewer people. I think there is really an existential danger to the species.

Robot Law

The Times

The RoboLaw consortium told the European parliament that robots could act independently if they had the legal status of a corporation. Driverless cars could reduce accidents by 97%, but under present legislation the manufacturer could be liable for accidents. New insurance schemes could address this.

2014 October 1

Robots

MIT Technology Review

Robots are safe and smart enough to work alongside people on BMW production lines. These robots are increasing productivity and flexibility but they are relatively slow and lightweight, which makes them safer to work around.

Robots on production lines promise to transform the division of labor between people and machines. Traditional robots work well but they are unsafe with anyone nearby. The new robots can automate more the production process.

The next generation of robots to work with humans will be faster and more powerful. The sensors and computer power needed to react quickly and intelligently to safety risks are now cheap. Mixed teams can be more productive.

RAF Tornado GR4
Ministry of Defence

RAF Tornado GR4 jets over Iraq
The Ministry of Defence reports "successful" Tornado attacks on Islamic State targets in Iraq. Two RAF Tornado GR4 strike aircraft based in Cyprus dropped a Paveway IV guided bomb on a heavy weapon position and hit an armed pickup truck using a Brimstone missile.

CERN @ 60
BBC
(0:60)

Sapiens
A Brief History of Humankind
By Yuval Noah Harari
My review
PDF: 1 page, 61 KB

German Weakness

In a crisis the German defense forces could not keep their promises to NATO. In case of an attack on the Baltic states the Luftwaffe is currently unable to deploy a planned 60 Eurofighter Typhoons to defend them.


SS Warnock

MARS

Scientists at the Indian Space Research Organization in Bangalore clapped and cheered when their Mars Orbiter Mission entered Mars orbit.

 

2014 September 30

British Values

The Times

UK Home Secretary Theresa May said of Islamic State: "They have made clear their ambitions and they have made us their enemies. And the lesson of history tells us that when our enemies say they want to attack us, they mean it. We must not flinch. We must not shy away from our responsibility."

"You don't just get the freedom to live how you choose to live, you have to respect other people's right to do so too and you have to respect British values and institutions: the rule of law, democracy, equality, free speech and respect for minorities. These are the values that make our country what it is. These are our values."

Google Versus Apple

The Telegraph

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt: "I would say that this brutal competition between Apple and Google over Android and iOS has enormous benefits for consumers worldwide. If you look at the innovation on the Apple side and on the Google side, that competition which I think is the defining fight of the computer industry today, it benefits global at the billions of people level."

Philosophy

Prospect

Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy is a masterpiece. Russell's disdain for armchair philosophy and his fondness of empiricism made him blind to many of Plato's deepest insights, a poor interpreter of Kant, and abusive towards Hegel. But he interprets the canon of philosophy in a way that is coherent, articulate and highly personal. He offers the Cynics and Sceptics of ancient Greece and Rome his sympathy for their despair at living in a society where philosophy is seen as useless in politics and culture.

2014 September 29

Internet Freedom

The Times

Big American corporations want to own the internet, says WWW creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Companies such as Google and Facebook have grown big since the creation of the web 25 years ago. Sir Tim says global internet and telecom companies would "love to be able to take control of the internet market" and "use it to establish control of some other markets" but this would be "disastrous" for us all.

Brits and Krauts

Roger Boyes

Neil MacGregor thinks that Germans feel goodwill towards the English. But there is another way of seeing it: the English are becoming the new Germans. Overeager to go to war, ready to work all hours, a bit leaden in our humour. The Germans have long since broken out of our box, yet we seem to fit in it. In the end we are members of the same pale, stubborn, self-righteous tribe.

2014 September 28

War Again

Max Hastings

The Mideast monsters of IS are wedded to a culture of intolerance and death. IS wants not only to create a medieval caliphate in conquered territory but also to attack the infidels of the West.

The threat IS poses to our security is too great to ignore. I recall the Dervish jihad led by "the mad Mahdi" that overran the Sudan and Abyssinia and stormed Khartoum in 1884.

The Mahdi imposed an Islamist regime not much different from that of IS today. This tyranny rewarded every man who questioned the Mahdi's descent from the Prophet by amputating his right hand and left foot. Its army of 100,000 men punished dissent with mass slaughter.

Egyptian troops failed to hold back the Mahdists, just as the Iraqi army has failed to cope with IS. Only with British troops, latterly under Sir Herbert Kitchener, did the Dervish army meet its nemesis.

If Kitchener had simply packed up and gone home after defeating his enemy, Sudan would have lapsed into anarchy. But following his ruthless victory at Omdurman in 1898, the British ruled the Mahdi's former empire for half a century. Imperialism brought order.

The Western powers are the good guys in this struggle. But already more fighters are joining the jihadis, seeing them as winners. We must do what we can to restore order to the Mideast.

The End of History

The Sunday Times

Francis Fukuyama told us that history ended in 1989. Now, 25 years on: "Things are looking very bad."

Frank, 61, a senior fellow at Stanford, is promoting his new book, Political Order and Political Decay. "Back in 1989, there was really a hope that a liberal Russia would emerge that would be European and would integrate. That didn't happen." He thinks our response to Putinism should be to revive NATO.

NATO

Anders Fogh Rasmussen

The world has changed since I became Secretary General of NATO five years ago. The challenges we face are driven by forces that defy our freedom and reject our democracy. NATO must work with partners around the world to uphold the global order.

The barbaric extremism promoted by IS has spread like a cancer across the state boundaries of Iraq, Syria and beyond. NATO allies agreed to work closely together to support Iraq in combating IS and to exchange information on returning foreign fighters.

Russia has shown utter disregard for international law and a brutal determination to redraw borders by force. Its aggression against Ukraine has challenged our vision of Europe. Despite our efforts since the collapse of communism, Russia clearly views NATO as an adversary.

NATO stands ready to act swiftly and decisively to defend all allies against threats from any direction. We will maintain a continuous presence in Eastern Europe, with more planes in the air, more ships at sea, and more troops on the ground.

I leave NATO stronger than I found it. Our armed forces are more effective and more tightly connected than ever before. NATO is an alliance worth investing in. Our freedom must be defended.

2014 September 27

Genius

Tamsin Shaw

The genius answers the human yearning for cosmic reconciliation. The Kantian tradition in philosophy gave rise to a notion of genius that unified the human mind and nature. Newtonian physics could not explain how plants and animals could come into existence, and Kant suggested that they were behaving as if they had an inner purpose. This process at work in art he described as genius.

The German Romantics developed the Kantian conception into a cosmic idea. They understood the mental and the physical as manifestations of the force generating the cosmos. Human creativity brought the whole process to self-consciousness. Genius combines self-conscious reflection with deep unconscious sources of creativity.

For Kant, the mind can grasp infinities that our senses cannot show us. Beethoven conjured this feeling of confronting titanic forces and yet soaring above them. Although Darwin was responsible for a great transformations in human self-understanding, he did not consider himself a genius.

Einstein said the comprehensibility of the world was a miracle. Quantum theorists assailed the assumption that the relationship between the mental and the physical could be modeled as a mind comprehending an objectively existing external reality. Quantum theory defies any sense of what a theodicy of mind would look like.

Mathematical genius helps. Gödel proved that for any finitely specifiable, consistent formal system of sufficient complexity to express arithmetic, there will exist truths of arithmetic that are not provable within that system, and inferred from this that it was impossible to think of mathematics as a human construction.

A new theodicy of mind can be based on mathematics. The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences expands our sense of living in a universe that is intelligible to us. The human mind has evolved to recognize mathematical truths. We are nature looking back at itself.

Johann Sebastian Bach is the musical genius of our age. Douglas Hofstadter suggests that some of Bach's formal devices, mirroring Gödelian self-reference, provide the key to understanding how consciousness can emerge in the physical world.

2014 September 26

UK To Strike IS

CNN

UK parliamentarians meeting in emergency session approved by 524 to 43 votes a motion to participate in airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq.

Cameron speaks
(4:44)

2014 September 25

Airstrikes

CNN

President Obama addressing the UN General Assembly: "It is no exaggeration to say that humanity's future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of tribe or sect, race or religion. ... Collectively, we must take concrete steps to address the danger posed by religiously motivated fanatics, and the trends that fuel their recruitment."

2014 September 24

Religion

Ferdinand Mount

Great religions emerge in conditions of social stress and oppressive state violence. The founder preaches that all men are equal in the sight of God, or do as you would be done by.

Religions are corrupted by success. Every major faith tradition has tracked the political entity in which it arose. None has become a world religion without the patronage of a militarily powerful empire and every tradition developed an imperial ideology.

It is not religion that poisons everything but everything that poisons religion. Under the cumulative pressure of invasion by outsiders and internal oppression, religion is weaponized.

War President

Nobel peace laureate Barack Hussein Obama: "I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism; it is recognition of history, the imperfections of man, and the limits of reason."


Bitstrips
Zum Wohl!

Big History
examines our past,
explains our present,
and imagines our future.


A. Lutz
The latest EC135 helicopter at Donauworth, Bavaria. Airbus has given it a new main rotor and a modified tail system. The EC135 started life decades ago as the Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB) Bo 108. Well over 1000 are in service worldwide.


EPA
RAF Typhoon intercepts Russian Bear bomber off Scotland


nature
Laniakea
Our home supercluster
(4:10)


Bitstrips
Am I?


JMW Turner
Late Turner
Tate Britain

2014-09-10 — 2015-01-25

 

2014 September 23

Germany

Neil MacGregor

Pro-British sentiment in Germany is everywhere. Every educated German will know all about Britain. They all speak English and they'll watch British television. They have great admiration for the way things just evolve and the decency of the whole system. They have huge admiration for the way Britain fought the Second World War.

Germany wants allies. One of the things they've learnt from the past is not only that power is dangerous, but acting alone is also dangerous. So they want counsel and friends, and they would be very happy for Britain to play that role. Historically, we are in a far better position to be Germany's friend than France.

A hundred years ago everybody like us would have known all about German culture and history. We’d all have read German at school or university, we'd expect people to read German, we would know about Germany. All that stopped after 1945. The Germany you study at school is not enough to understand what Germany is becoming.

Germany: Memories of a Nation
BBC Radio 4

2014 September 22

MAVEN Orbits Mars

CNN

MAVEN is now orbiting Mars after a journey of over 700 Gm lasting 10 months.

The NASA Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission will study the Martian atmosphere from orbit to answer questions about its climate change and help us understand the history of Martian climate, water and habitability.

2014 September 21

The Sun: Six Facts

Rebecca Boyle

1 It has cooling rain

The sun is a giant ball of hot plasma. As the solar wind streams outward, plasma can fall back to the surface like rain. The coronal rain is not liquid: plasma simply cools enough to fall down again. This all happens very quickly and on a gargantuan scale. Solar tornadoes form as swirling plasma creates a vortex, which causes magnetic fields to twist and spiral into the corona. We think this heats it.

2 It has siblings

The sun once had close family. After their birth in a cloud of dust and gas, the siblings scattered. One of them, HD 162826, is about 110 light years away in the constellation Hercules. It looks like the sun and might have planets but is slightly hotter and more massive. The ESA telescope Gaia may find more solar siblings.

3 It gets into twists

Different parts of the sun spin at different rates. A day at the equator lasts 25 Earth days but polar days are about 10% longer. This uneven spin twists the solar magnetic field into tangles. These periodically snap and release energy in solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). The cycle of twisting and snapping lasts roughly 11 Earth years. During a solar minimum, flares are few and so are sunspots. In solar maxima, more sunspots burst out and spew more flares and CMEs. The current cycle is unusually calm. Every 11 years, the solar magnetic field polarity reverses. We think it is doing so now.

4 It breathes

The solar wind varies as its radiation changes. This changes the size of the huge magnetic bubble of charged particles, the heliosphere, that the wind blows out. The solar cycles help cause warm periods and mini ice ages on Earth. During a solar minimum, the solar wind streams from the poles at a much higher speed and expands the heliosphere. During solar maxima, the magnetic fields are more knotted up and less wind blows, so the heliosphere contracts. The breathing cycle lasts 11 years.

5 It has a hot corona

At 5700 K, the solar surface is much cooler than the corona. The upper corona, more than 1 Gm above the surface, can reach temperatures of several MK, so energy must be flowing into it. Much of the energy appears to come from the transition region between the corona and the next atmospheric layer down. Tornadoes, rain, magnetic braids, plasma jets, and "spicules" are all thought to play a role in bringing heat energy from the lower regions of the sun and dumping it higher up. The NASA Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph mission has been observing all this since 2013.

6 It has visitors

Two new spacecraft will fly closer to the sun than ever before. The ESA Solar Orbiter mission launches in 2017 and aims to fly within 45 Gm of the sun. It will photograph the solar poles to study the magnetic field. The NASA Solar Probe Plus mission is set to launch in 2018 and come within 6 Gm of the sun.

2014 September 20

Verdict

Niall Ferguson

The Scottish electorate's verdict on the Union was unambiguous. Both the main UK parties now find themselves committed to ideas about nationwide constitutional reform and decentralization that have hitherto been the property of the Liberal Democrats. Now there is a chance to move the UK in the direction of federalism.

David Cameron has triumphed. The performance of the UK economy is confounding his Keynesian critics. He has lanced the boil of Scottish separatism. And he has opened up an entirely new front in British political warfare. Devolution for the UK as a whole puts Labour on the back foot and takes everyone's mind off Europe.

"Alex Salmond has certainly given credence to the law of unintended consequences. He has probably succeeded in dividing Scotland, and he appears to have united England. It was not what he planned but it may have considerable benefits for the English."
G.F. Casey

"The present arrangements with regard to the West Lothian question and the Barnett formula are clearly unfair. The time for waiting is over."
Roger H. Vincent

"Congratulations to Scotland for recognising the need for unity in these times. Now we must stop this nonsense about quitting Europe."
John Postgate

2014 September 19

NO

CNN

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond admitted defeat. Scotland stays in the United Kingdom.
Yes 45%
No 55%

Islamic Art

The Times

The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto opens today. The Aga Khan, 77, is the spiritual leader to 15 million Shia Ismaili Muslims, a multimillionaire, and a philanthropist. His collection of Islamic art includes more than a thousand pieces including exquisite book paintings, ceramics, textiles, and artifacts dating back to the 9th century CE.

The Aga Khan was closely involved in the design of the $300 million site: "We hope that this museum will contribute to a better understanding of the peoples of Islam in all of their religious, ethnic, linguistic, and social diversity."

2014 September 18

NO

2014 September 17

Islamic State

The New York Times

General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "My view at this point is that this coalition is the appropriate way forward. I believe that will prove true. But if it fails to be true, and if there are threats to the United States, then I, of course, would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of US military ground forces."

2014 September 16

Spirituality Without Religion

Sam Harris

Our minds are all we have. Every experience you have ever had has been shaped by your mind. Every relationship is as good or as bad as it is because of the minds involved. Love is a state of being.

Religions are mere intellectual ruins, maintained at enormous economic and social cost, but important psychological truths can be found in the rubble. Our world is dangerously riven by religious doctrines that all educated people should condemn, and yet there is more to understanding the human condition than science and secular culture generally admit.

A spiritual practitioner is someone who has discovered that it is possible to be at ease in the world for no reason, and that such ease is synonymous with transcending the apparent boundaries of the self.

2014 September 15

Are we alone?

2014 September 14

YUK!

The Sunday Times

Imperial College London physics professor Joao Magueijo spent seven years as a fellow at Cambridge. In a best-selling Portuguese book he writes that England has one of the most rotten societies in Europe: "I never met such a group of animals. English culture is pathologically violent. The English are unrestrained wild beasts and totally out of control."

On a 4-hour wait in the A&E department at a hospital in Blackpool one Sunday afternoon: "It looked like a field hospital after a battle."

On the behavior of drunken young women: "Oral sex is not considered a sexual act among the English. It is something a woman can perform on a stranger whose name she doesn't even know."

On English hygiene standards: "When you visit English homes, or the toilets at schools or in student lodgings, they are all so disgusting that even my grandmother's poultry cage is cleaner."

On the north of England: "Everything is hideous out there: the houses, the streets ... People in the north are incredibly obese, men and women with three-meter waists made of fat and lard."

On whether he had experienced English condescension: "Of course I have. Cambridge was a minefield of such attitudes."

He sees a good side: "Part of the creativity of this country results from her ugliness and hang-ups ... I am thankful to England for the working climate I was offered. But then there is all the rest."

AR After civil life in Germany I was shocked too. Brits need to clean up their act.


NYT

BBC

BBC

HEMEDIA


AR
Left to right: NN, MP for Poole Robert Syms, Leader of Poole Council Elaine Atkinson, NN, Head of The New Leaf Company Hannah Allen, NN, and me.
Event: soft launch of pop-up
shop selling recycled bicycles in Poole High Street,
2014-09-13

 

2014 September 13

UK

New Statesman

Should Scotland be an independent country? All residents in Scotland over 16 can vote Yes or No.
Would David Cameron survive as prime minister following a Yes vote? He made careless errors.
Even if the Union endures, the desperation of the political class will make victory seem pyrrhic.

Festung Europa

Maximilian Popp

In a skyscraper in Warsaw, Polizeioffizier Klaus Rösler directs operations at the European border agency Frontex. The agency is judged on how effectively it defends Europe against illegal immigrants.

Frontex has been beefing up the external borders of the European Union against an influx of refugees since 2005. There is virtually no legal path to Europe for refugees, yet some 200,000 refugees are expected to arrive in Germany alone this year.

Frontex also counts illegal border crossings and collects information under a €340 million program to monitor EU borders using drones and satellites. Journalists say more than 23,000 people have died attempting to enter the EU in the last 14 years.

Frontex coordinates joint operations between Spanish and Moroccan security forces in the Moroccan-Spanish border zone. Human Rights Watch criticizes Spanish and Moroccan border guards for using excessive violence against refugees.

Frontex invested about €37 million in 2011-12 to secure the Greek-Turkish border. Trafficker gangs have cornered the immigrant business in Turkey. Human rights observers accuse Greek coastguards of using brutal methods to fend off migrants.

Frontex officers patrol the Hungarian-Serbian border. Hungary has introduced asylum prisons to deter refugees. Those who refuse to leave are often deported to Ukraine or Serbia. The Serbian government has granted only three people asylum since 2008.

Outgoing EU commissioner for home affairs Cecilia Malmström: "The EU member states must do far more to help people who are fleeing hunger, poverty and violence in their native countries."

Islamists

Dennis B. Ross

A fundamental division between Islamists and non-Islamists has emerged in Mideast politics.

Of the Islamists, Islamic State and the Muslim Brotherhood are Sunni, while the Islamic Republic of Iran and its militias are Shiite. They all subordinate national identities to an Islamic identity.

The non-Islamists include the traditional monarchies, authoritarian governments in Egypt and Algeria, and secular reformers. They want to know that the United States supports them.

The Obama administration needs to:
1 Focus on security and stability.
2 Do not reach out to Islamists.
3 Press non-Islamist partners on pluralism, minority rights and the rule of law.

The Mideast fault line is an opportunity for America.

2014 September 12

Thinking Like a Conservative

Roger Scruton

Thinking is an unusual and precarious exercise for Conservatives. They believe that good government is not grounded in abstract ideas but in concrete situations, and that concrete situations are hard to grasp. Abstract ideas like equality and liberty raise questions of identity, of who we are.

The language of politics is spoken in the first-person plural. For Conservatives, the duty of the politician is to maintain that first-person plural in being. Conservatives must adapt, but adaptation means survival, and survival means a maintained identity.

Governments must meet our need to be bound to our neighbours in a relation of trust. That is why, in all the postwar political debates in the UK, Conservatives have emphasised the defence of the realm, the maintenance of national borders, and the unity of the nation.

Conservatism does not fit easily with abstract ideals. The socialist ideal of equality has led to the belief that patriotism is racism. And the liberal ideal of universal human rights has led to a downgrading of attachment, since attachment is a form of discrimination.

Conservatism is not a matter of defending global capitalism at all costs, or securing the privileges of the few against the many. It is a matter of defending civil society, maintaining autonomous institutions, and defending the citizen against the abuse of power.

The Conservative view identifies what is now at stake as the survival of our way of life. The hard philosophical task is that of seeing civil society as it is, and recognising that it is easier to destroy good things in the name of an ideal than to maintain them as a reality.

2014 September 11

Time to Act

Barack Obama

I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.

America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat. We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.

We can't erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today.

2014 September 10

Manifesto

ConservativeHome

This is a manifesto for the ordinary working people of Britain. They are the children and grandchildren of the old working class, who escaped prejudice and poverty to become a mass middle class.

Homes. Jobs. Savings. These are the building blocks of personal liberty and a free society. They are under threat. Having lead this country out of the deepest recession since the war, the Conservative Party now faces an even bigger challenge: to halt and reverse the decline of the mass middle class.

Our manifesto for ordinary working people is designed to support home ownership, full employment, and savings for all.

1 Homes: Ownership first
A building boom that sucks in cheap money looking for a quick return will not deliver. We must freeze out the speculators with an ownership first condition on the development of new housing.

2 Homes: New garden cities
We need a vision for the development of strategically located areas. We propose the creation of Garden City corporations, empowered to clear the obstacles to large-scale regeneration.

3 Jobs: Create a Northern infrastructure fund
HS2 is a London-centric mega-project that won't run until the 2030s. We would scrap HS2 and redirect the planned public investment to a Northern infrastructure fund.

4 Jobs: A new deal on immigration
Britain must regain control of its borders, repatriating power over immigration from the European Union. Existing immigration targets should be replaced by a points-based system.

5 Savings: A fair share of pensions tax relief
Tax relief on pensions is worth £20 to £30 billion a year, but this mainly benefits the wealthiest savers. The highest rates of relief should go to savings made from the lowest incomes.

6 Savings: Hands-on financial education
We propose funding to endow every school with the seed capital for an investment portfolio. Dividends would be paid out to every pupil who passed a test and saved the money.

7 Money: Higher National Insurance thresholds
National Insurance contributions are a direct tax on jobs. We would eliminate employee and employer contributions for all under-25s on the minimum wage.

8 Money: A UK sovereign wealth fund
We propose the creation of a UK sovereign wealth fund, mutually owned by all British citizens, into which all new windfall revenues would be paid.

9 Power: Devo-Max for all the home nations
We propose devolved national governments for England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, each with its own First Minister.

10 Power: Direct democracy
Merely electing our MPs and councillors every few years and hoping for the best is not good enough. There should be a right of recall. Work should begin on electronic voting.

Loch Ness
Loch Ness. Image: The Times

Britain is Great. From the lochs and glens of Scotland, to the valleys of Wales, to the peaks and gorges of England to the coastline of Northern Ireland. Each has its own unique beauty, and its own unique people. But collectively, we four small and proud nations —
for all our differences — have achieved so much together as a United Kingdom.
John Major

NATO

Philanthropist
of the Year

Tony Blair


Bitstrips
Life can be good

 

2014 September 9

Nuclear Threat

Foreign Policy

A US State Department report says Russia has tested a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed in 1987.

A new mobile GLCM with a range up to 5,000 km enables Russia to threaten US allies in Europe and the Mideast, and to hit targets in China, India, Pakistan, and so on. It also increases the disparity in regional nuclear forces between Russia and NATO. Russia currently enjoys about a 10-to-1 advantage over NATO in nonstrategic nuclear weapons in Europe.

National Intelligence Council: "Russia is pursuing new concepts and capabilities for expanding the role of nuclear weapons in its security strategy."

2014 September 8

No Self

Sam Harris

Consciousness is conceptually irreducible. We spend our lives lost in thought. The feeling of being a self is just another appearance in consciousness. Rare and wonderful experiences are possible. The crucial distinction is between making claims about reality at large or about states of consciousness.

2014 September 7

On Genocide

AR
My review of The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis
PDF: 2 pages, 69 KB

Bloody Hell: A Holocaust Novel

2014 September 6

Core Coalition

The Times

Britain has signed up to a US-led core coalition to wipe out Islamic State.

US secretary of state John Kerry: "They're an ambitious, avowed genocidal, territorial-grabbing, caliphate-desiring, quasi state with a regular army. And leaving them in some capacity intact anywhere would leave a cancer in place that will ultimately come back to haunt us."

Kerry chaired a meeting of ten nations asked to make a military contribution: the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Poland, and Denmark.

We Need A Mighty US Military

Mitt Romney

Several arguments are advanced to justify the decimation of our defense. All of them are wrong.

The president wants to replace the old order, where America's disproportionate strength holds tyrants in check and preserves the sovereignty of nations. But before we do so, there must be something effective in its place.

Some say a multipolar world is preferable to one led by a strong United States. But with emerging poles being China, Russia, and Iran, the world would see bullying, invasion, regional wars, and ultimately world war.

Some say the United States should simply withdraw its military strength from the world. No, power-hungry tyrants ultimately feast on the appeasers. Global peace and stability are very much in our national interest.

Some say our military is already so much stronger than that of any other nation. But our military is tasked with many more missions than those of other nations.

The real reason for the cuts: Politicians, and many of the people who elect them, want to keep up spending here at home. Entitlements and programs are putting pressure on the federal budget.

Freedom and peace are in the balance.

2014 September 5

NATO

Barack Obama
1613 UTC


NATO is unanimous that ISIL poses a threat and that there has to be action. There has been significant support from various member states for the action already taken. The US has already launched 100 strikes. The US has to bolster Iraqi government forces and the peshmerga. You can fight from the air, but ultimately you need a strong ground game.

NATO leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to mutual defense. They have committed themselves to deployments in eastern Europe. They have agreed the new spearhead rapid-reaction force. And they have committed themselves to spending more on defense.

NATO is fully behind Ukraine's right to independence. NATO allies will supply security support to Ukraine, including nonlethal equipment and support for logistics. We have sent a message to Russia that actions have consequences. The US and EU are finalizing new sanctions.

Ukraine

Tim Judah

Ukrainian forces in southeastern Ukraine have suffered a catastrophic defeat.

The fortunes of war have changed dramatically in the past two weeks. In spring, anti-Kiev rebels, taking the new and revolutionary Ukrainian government by surprise, seized towns and cities across the two predominantly industrial and mining regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. At first, Ukrainian forces either fell apart, were captured, or defected to the rebel side. By summer, they were better organized and went on the offensive.

In the latter half of August, everything changed again. Ukrainians said regular Russian troops were crossing the border. Mounting evidence of the presence of regular Russian soldiers suggests the rebels have acquired new strength. Today, Donetsk is a much safer city than it was a few weeks ago. The Ukrainian forces have been pushed back. Those attacking them were highly professional and used powerful weapons.

There is now talk of a ceasefire. Ukraine cannot win a war against Russia.

British Housing

Lord Wolfson

House price inflation does not make the nation richer. It merely makes home owners rich at the expense of those who do not own their homes. It widens the gap between rich and poor, young and old, north and south. Even those who have enjoyed seeing the value of their home increase are now beginning to worry about how their children will be able to afford a home.

Demand for more housing in the UK is an economic opportunity. Building on just 1% of the 92% of British land that is undeveloped could provide all the homes we need: well-built homes, spacious, comfortable, affordable, and with plenty of gardens and open green spaces. The right housing policies present an opportunity to improve our quality of life and create hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs.

We have a planning system that doesn't work. It has overcrowded our towns and cities, overloaded our transport infrastructure, inflated land prices, underinvested in quality, restricted competition and crushed innovation. Britons now live in Europe's smallest and most expensive homes. A system that was designed to ensure better homes for all has morphed into an economic straitjacket.

New development does not have to take place within the bounds of our existing towns and cities. An acre of arable land in the South East of England is worth less than £20,000 an acre. With planning permission it is worth over £1,000,000. That gain could be invested in better quality homes, infrastructure, parks, playgrounds, and in compensating the small number who would be adversely affected by the new development.

Garden cities offer a ray of hope. Around 40 existing towns and cities could be expanded and revitalised. Enabling legislation can allow the vast sums currently spent on land to be invested in build quality and infrastructure. This is a chance for all those who aspire to own their own home.

2014 September 4

Truthiness

Katy Waldman

Truthiness is truth that comes from the gut, not books.

The less effort it takes to process a factual claim, the more accurate it seems. When we smoothly absorb a piece of information, we are filled with a sense of familiarity and trust. The information strikes us as credible.

Surrounding an idea with relevant details or photographs can make a claim easier to understand, which adds a halo of truthiness. Cognitive fluency applies to sounds as well. We like and trust what we can comfortably pronounce. The bias toward low cognitive effort even extends to font and color schemes.

Some cognitive biases prompt an overloaded mind toward conservatism:
1 We tend to link behavior to personal character rather than to circumstances.
2 We learn more easily when facts match existing frames or social categories.
3 We tend to assume that existing or enduring states are good and desirable.
4 We default under stress to beliefs that allow faster action in times of danger.

Keep it simple: steer right.

Apocalypse

The Guardian

Islamic State caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his council may be aiming for an apocalyptic showdown, and sooner rather than later.

Quranic teachings include a prediction that Muslims and Christians will fight a battle at Dabek. Murj Dabek is a small village some 50 km south of the Turkish border. For many jihadis, this is ground zero, a place where ancient prophecies will be thrashed out in an existential battle between the faiths.

Iraqi expert Hisham al-Hashimi: "Baghdadi wants to bring the Americans into a war with him so he will prove what was written in the Quran."

2014 September 3

NATO

The New York Times

President Vladimir Putin of Russia has set the agenda for NATO summit meeting this week. He has forced on it a new and urgent purpose by effectively invading Ukraine and demonstrating his utter disregard for the international system.

The summit will agree on a new rapid-reaction force of 4,000 troops, capable of deploying on 48 hours notice to protect any NATO member from external aggression, which under the current circumstances means the Baltic States and Poland. There are no plans for new permanent bases or deployments, but troops will be rotated to that region, supported with pre-positioned logistics and equipment, and enhanced by more military exercises and air patrols.

The United States bears about 75% of the NATO budget, while the contributions from most European countries have fallen. The Europeans obviously have to increase their defense budgets.

NATO
Roger Boyes

Europe is not paying its way in NATO. Since 2008, when Putin invaded Georgia, the Russian defense budget has gone up by 50% while NATO defense spending has dropped by 20%. The last big Russian military exercise involved 150,000 men. The last big NATO outing, in the Baltics, involved 6,500. Only Britain, Greece, and Estonia are currently meeting the defense spending target of 2% of GDP.

Big Data

SAP

Big Data has morphed into a virtual tsunami as the data universe expands. By 2020, about 1.7 MB of new information will be created every second for every human being on the planet. The digital universe will have expanded to 44 ZB, up from just 440 EB today.

Enterprises bear responsibility or liability for the vast majority of this data. Yet more than two-thirds of it has been created by individual consumers. Facebook has 829 million users worldwide who log in daily to bring in $2.9 billion in revenue in 2014 Q2 alone.

The vast majority of data never gets used. Only 0.5% of it is ever analyzed. Despite the opportunities it offers, the Big Data tsunami will likely continue to challenge us. But it will also open up new lines of business and create new jobs. Big Data has potential.

2014 September 2

Waking Up

Sam Harris

It was an afternoon on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and I was atop the mount where Jesus is believed to have preached his most famous sermon. As I gazed at the surrounding hills, a feeling of peace came over me. It soon grew to a blissful stillness that silenced my thoughts. In an instant, the sense of being a separate self — an "I" or a "me" — vanished. If I were a Christian, I would undoubtedly have interpreted this experience in Christian terms.

Waking Up is a guide to spirituality without religion.

2014 September 1

Fortress UK

The Times

The ConservativeHome pre-election manifesto calls for tougher limits on EU migration. Britain would take control of borders back from the EU and existing immigration targets would be replaced by a system like that in Australia. New immigrants would have to buy their own health and welfare cover.

Net migration into the UK was 243,000 in the year to March, up from 175,000 the year before. Two thirds of the increase came from EU citizens.

AR Fortress UK — a quarantine zone for isolationists.

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